Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sine Die or Seen Die?

As I reflected on the close of the 85th session, I couldn't help but think that maybe the Latin words Sine Die signaling the end of the regular session might more appropriately be spelled "Seen Die"; I never took Latin so maybe this is the easy way out anyway.  Watching the political wrangling and badgering of the past couple of weeks in particular sure gives credence to the revised term.  There seems to be little appetite in either party to work toward resolution of some of the issues that had been festering for most of the session.

What really is most galling to me is the blatant disregard in the Senate for addressing what the Texas Supreme Court defined as a need for the legislature, not the courts, to "fix" the school finance system.  By whatever term(s) you want to use, whether "Byzantine", "minimum constitutional requirement", or any of the others in the Court's opinion, they laid responsibility for resolving the fate of a failed school finance system squarely at the doorstep of the legislature.  But they were unable to come to a resolution acceptable to both chambers.

So where does that leave us now?  Chairman Huberty and Speaker Straus are to be applauded for their efforts to put a plan on the table that would begin to close the gap on issues raised by districts who sued the state.  The governor seems to care little that even "baby steps" to address school finance was not an outcome of this session.  And then there is the Lt. Governor.  All of the news stories talk about Chairman Taylor's unwillingness to address school finance without also approving a voucher (by any name) component.  But was this really his position or were the strings attached to his arms and voice controlled by the LG? 

I wondered in a tweet last week after the conference committee failed to resolve HB21 issues if this is maybe just setting the table for yet another round of lawsuits.  If the very body tasked by the Supreme Court is unable (or unwilling) to take any concrete action without strings attached to address school finance, do we really think that there is hope in a special session (not likely since it's not on the governor's or LG's radar) or in the 86th session when it commences in twenty months.  Without goading by the courts, what motivation is there for the legislature to address the issue?  Just saying it is the responsibility of the legislature was obviously not enough and maybe is a reflection of weakness at the highest court in Texas.

This brings me back to my own interpretation of the close of the 85th.  Many bills to address requirements (yes, I know that the only bill that they legislature had to pass was a balanced budget) were left unresolved.  What happens now to bills such as sunset provisions, the bathroom bill, capping property taxes, etc.?  I guess what we really see is not just an adjournment of the session but a lost opportunity to resolve the differences not just between parties but between chambers.  For my nickel, I prefer the term "seen die" as a reflection of the failures of the 85th legislative session.

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